by John Szczepaniak
When Super Mario All-Stars was released in 1993, the Western world became acutely aware of a Mario title it was originally denied – Super Mario Bros. 2 on the Famicom Disk System, aka: The Lost Levels. But there are other games in the Mario series that never left Japan, and some of them are rather good.
I’m going to cover the three Mario titles by Hudson Soft, all released across a variety of Japanese home computers. There’s never been an official explanation as to why or how Hudson acquired the licence to work with Nintendo’s most cherished intellectual properties – presumably Nintendo wanted to profit from the computer market in Japan and decided to let a more experienced company deal with development. Curiously, instead of porting the original Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros, Hudson chose to remake them with drastically different gameplay and levels. As such, three decades later, although suffering from the technical limitations of hardware, these titles allow you to see the Mario series in an entirely different way; they are the true “Lost Levels”. What’s sad is that Nintendo hasn’t thought to capitalize on Mario’s popularity by re-releasing them as a trilogy pack.
This is almost identical to the original Mario Bros, except you can’t knock enemies upside down by hitting the platform they’re standing on. The only way to defeat them is by hitting the POW block or throwing the Punch Ball which Mario and Luigi carry around. Complicating the process is that there’s only one button used for both jumping and throwing. If Mario is in the midst of a run it causes him to leap; if he’s stationary he’ll throw the ball. Rather than being frustrating, this augments the way you approach the game, and by standing still you have a better aim anyway.
The ball also needs to be collected after every throw, which gives the game an interesting sense of pacing as you rush like mad to retrieve it while avoiding enemies. There are also some interesting level variations, such as one where the all the platforms move left and right, making jumping tricky. Punch Ball is awesome, especially with two players, adding a fresh twist to the original. Considering their constant push for multiplayer family gaming, it’s baffling Nintendo hasn’t considered re-releasing this.